Ask a lot of actors what they really want to do and the cliché answer is "I want to direct". However, Minnesota based actress, writer and director Rachel Grubb is no cliché. Rachel and her partners Heather Amos and Brooke Lemke founded Silent-But-Deadly Productions. a non-profit organization designed to help women in the film business. Now Rachel is directing Silent-But-Deadly’s first feature film: Why Am I In A Box? and, as if that wasn’t enough, Rachel also wrote and is starring in the film! Despite her hectic production schedule, Rachel found some time to talk about her work and Silent-But-Deadly Productions.
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Nic– Rachel, you’ve described yourself as an actress and a model. Which came first for you?
Rachel– Acting came first. I never really set out to become an actress or a model. They were both just something I started doing for fun. I actually went to school for writing. I somehow ended up taking some acting classes, just to have something interesting to do. I got really good feedback from my instructors, so I decided why not audition for some films here in town? If it turns out I really suck, and the instructors are only telling me I’m good to get me to pay for more classes, I’ll be no worse off than I already am. So, with nothing to lose, I went in to audition for some indie shorts. I think it helped that I was only doing it for fun in the beginning, because I didn’t get nervous. If I didn’t get the part, it didn’t bother me. But it didn’t take long for me to start getting some roles, and I decided to take it more seriously.
I didn’t start modeling until I had done a fair amount of work as an actress. I wanted to get some good photos of myself to use for promotional purposes, so I started networking with photographers in my area. At first I just wanted a few new pictures, but modeling has become addictive! Every time I do a photo shoot, I come up with about 5 more ideas for photo shoots I want to do in the future. I like modeling for artistic photography. It feels like a collaboration between the photographer and the model. Before I got into it, I didn’t realize what a wonderful creative outlet it could be. I especially like doing horror themes and vintage pin-up.
Nic– I understand that in addition to starring in the film Why Am I In A Box? you also wrote and are directing this film. Is this your first turn at the director’s chair?
Rachel– Yes, it is! It’s been very rewarding, and I have learned so much. When I graduated from college, I had written a screenplay, which won the Best Breakthrough Screenplay Award at the New York International Independent Film & Video Festival. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it, but people kept telling me I should direct it myself. I didn’t have the first clue about directing a movie, and at the time, I thought it was completely outside the realm of possibility.
Then one day, I became an actress. All of a sudden, everything I would need to learn about film was all around me. That was how I learned everything about pre-production, and how to work with actors, and how to put a crew together. I just watched other independent filmmakers. When it came time for me to direct my film, I had worked on so many projects and knew so many people that it wasn’t hard to find people who were willing to help me out.
Nic– Rachel, since you are both writer and director for Why Am I In A Box? which do you think is more challenging: writing a screenplay, or as the director, bringing the written word to life in the film?
Rachel– In order to answer that, I would have to divide directing into two separate tasks: mapping out the shots, and working with the actors. When I write a script, I usually have it in my head how each shot is going to look. If you’re directing the film yourself, you can include some of that in the description. I wrote out a full shot list for the whole film, before I even had all the locations picked out. We have been filming on weekends, so I’ve been going over the shot list during the week to make it more precise. I can’t draw very well, so instead of story boards, I’ve been writing a more detailed shot list to explain to our Director of Photography, Jason P. Schumacher, what I have in mind. The first shot list I wrote has one line descriptions for each shot. I go back in and write out exactly what I want, how it will look, and what will happen with camera movement and blocking. Since I already had all the shots in my head for, Why Am I In A Box? there wasn’t much creativity involved in making the shot list. There was some, however, because in many cases, we got a location that didn’t look how I had initially imagined it, and I had to work around that. But for the most part, the creative work was already done with the screenplay.
As for working with actors, I am having a great time with that! I have Matthew Feeney as Detective Lydecker, and he has some great scenes with Derek Dirlam and Mike Rylander. Some of my script is pretty dialog heavy, because I like dialog, watching it, reading it, writing it, or reciting it. But the danger is that you’re going to have a long boring scene where people keep talking, and it just keeps flipping back and forth between over the shoulder shots and a master. But Jason was able to keep changing it up enough that it didn’t get stale, and my actors made it interesting throughout. One night we were filming with Derek, and I kept telling Jason, "get another insert of that line" because Derek was just cracking me up, and I wanted to see it again! It was so much fun to see such talented actors performing my dialog, and sometimes doing it the way I had imagined, and sometimes coming up with their own way that was better than mine.
When I act, I go through a script and write all over it. I decide how I want to say each sentence, and I circle words I want to emphasize, and I add extra commas where I think I should pause. That’s how I find the delivery that’s going to communicate what I think needs to be communicated. That was how I first approached directing actors, until I realized it didn’t work. If I tell an actor, "don’t emphasize that word so much," or "stretch that vowel out a little more," it doesn’t mean anything to them. I have to tell them what I want them to communicate, and let them find their own delivery. I think that being an actor has helped me work with actors, but there is another side to it that I’ve learned since I started this project.
Nic– If I’m not mistaken, you are also the film’s lead character. Is it difficult to direct a film that you are also starring in?
Rachel– I didn’t plan it this way, but it has worked out that the character I play has been kidnapped, and spends most of the film inside one room with my co-producer, Brooke Lemke! We film those scenes this weekend, and I think it’s going to be much easier, since I’ve been talking with Brooke about the script from day 1. I have done a few scenes outside of that room, though, and it’s been hard to get used to! I am used to holding the scene until the director cuts, but I have to suddenly break character and cut the scene myself. And any time I’m acting, I always seem to ask my crew, "Hey, can we do something like this?" and they’re always, like, "You’re the director! Hello!" I’m so used to acting, that I forget I’m still allowed to make decisions like that!
Nic– You’ve been involved in a number of productions in the Minnesota area. Do you think it is harder finding film work somewhere like Minnesota than it is in other parts of the country?
Rachel– If you’re interested in working in independent film, which I am, there is plenty of it in Minnesota. Last summer, I did a movie called, Cave Women On Mars from Shadow Creek Studios. Shadow Creek movies are a humorous homage to 1950’s drive-in movies. I did another movie with them a while back, The Monster Of Phantom Lake, and I love that style of acting! It’s so great to be able to relax and have fun and not take it so seriously all the time. Brittany Hughes designed my costume as Hagra, and it looks awesome! Cave Women On Mars should be coming out in April.
I also have a horror movie coming out soon called, Unholy Reunion. It was directed by Ric McCloud, and I think it should be great when it’s done. I play the wife of a painter who goes mad. Another horror film I’m really excited about is 13 Hours In A Warehouse. My makeup was pretty amazing. I can’t tell you too much about it, except to say that it took a few hours for the makeup artist to apply it. Sometimes, I just slept in it just to save time. The director has a rough cut done, and it should be available soon.
I’m also very excited for Tales Of The Dead. Tim and Lisa Rasmussen were so much fun to work with. It’s a feature film made up of 5 short stories in old school style horror. I played a lead role in the Reckoning Of The Werewolf segment, and a supporting role in Walpurgisnacht. Haunted Autumn Productions does some cool effects, and I hope to work with them more in the future.
Early next year, I’m working with Brooke and Heather on a film called The Spooner Sisters. I’ve worked with director JP Wenner on several shorts, and this is his first time directing a feature. He made a horror short called Retina that Heather and I acted in. Another actor, Joshua LeSuer, enjoyed working on it so much that he asked JP if he could write a script for him. So he wrote The Spooner Sisters and Joshua and JP invited back the cast of Retina to be in it. I love the script. It reminds me of something like Ginger Snaps or May. I’m looking forward to working with JP on his first feature. I’m playing Jacklyn Spooner.
Nic– Can you tell us a bit about your film company: Silent-But-Deadly Productions? What inspired you to start a non-profit film organization such as this?
Silent-But-Deadly Productions is an all female independent production company. It was started by me, and my friends, Heather Amos, and Brooke Lemke.
The whole thing began little over a year ago. I was cast in a horror film called, "Tales Of The Dead" from Haunted Autumn Productions. They were looking for two girls to play my best friends. I recommended Heather and Brooke. Heather and I were in a NOFX video together, and Brooke was an extra with me in a local feature film. They had never met before, but I thought they were perfect as the characters in the script. Tim Rasmussen, the director, met with them and said they were almost exactly how he pictured the characters. So we went out into the woods in a cold November in the middle of the night, and we more fun than any of us ever had on a movie set! No matter how cold it was outside, and no matter how many times a car drove by and ruined the take, we just kept laughing and coming back, ready to do it again.
The first night we worked on it, we decided we were having too much fun not to keep working together. And the best way to insure we would be working together was to start our own production company. I told Brooke and Heather that I had some writings at home that I was thinking about turning into a screenplay, and Silent-But-Deadly Productions was born!
We wanted to have an independent production company in which we could create interesting and challenging female roles for ourselves, and for other women who want to work in film, both in front of and behind the camera. Brooke knows a younger girl who is interested in working in film, and we would like to have her visit the set and see what it’s like. We’re hoping to do more things like that.
Nic– It sounds like you, Heather and Brooke have something pretty special going on with Silent-But-Deadly. What kind of plans do you have for the future of your production company once Why Am I In A Box? is completed?
Rachel– Brooke and Heather are both going to write and direct, too. I just went first because I already had some writings that were coming together to form a script. We’d like to do whatever we can to promote women in film. We are hoping we can get some more young girls interested in film who would like to visit our sets. Sometimes, the task of making a film seems so daunting that people feel like they don’t know where to start. I felt like that when I wrote my first screenplay. But if you learn more about it, then you have an idea of what you need to do. I learned a lot just from being on set and talking to filmmakers.
Nic– What do you think is the biggest challenge your production company has faced in making Why Am I In A Box?
Rachel– Brooke Lemke was struck with a pretty bad illness not long before our first shoot date. That was hard, because Heather Amos and I were worried about Brooke, and nobody was quite sure what was wrong with her. We were getting a little behind on preproduction, because Brooke was too sick to do very much, and we had to postpone her first scene. It turned out to be nothing serious, and she is feeling better now. We just had to find a way to deal with it, and we did. We now have one extra shooting day, and the crew has been very understanding about that.
Nic– I’m glad that Brooke has recovered and that you were able to get the production on track! Now you’ve talked about the biggest challenge, but what has been the best part of making your own film company?
Rachel– I don’t know! Everything! I’ve learned so much about the filmmaking process that you can’t learn from books or lectures, and that’s been amazing. One thing that has been unexpected is that I’ve gotten to know Brooke and Heather better, and in a different way, than I knew them before after working on such a huge creative project with them. I’m really enjoying the time I’m spending with the crew, and I hope I get to work with them all again in some capacity. It’s also been fun meeting and working with new actors. We had so many great people come to the audition, and we didn’t get to use them all. If I had to choose, though, I would have to say that seeing actors act out the dialog that I wrote has been the best part so far. That’s a feeling I can’t explain.
Nic– One last question. You’ve mentioned that your first screenplay won the Best Breakthrough Screenplay Award at the New York International Independent Film & Video Festival. Have you had the opportunity to do anything with that piece yet?
Yes, I did, just recently, in fact. I had a role in a comedy/horror short called Intervention With The Vampire from
Cut Print Productions. I was talking with Eric Ortiz, who worked on that film, and I happened to mention that I had won an award for a screenplay I wrote. He asked me more about it, and he said he would be interested in directing it, maybe as a short. Shortly afterward, he started a new independent production company called Murderapolis Moving Pictures and asked me to be a part of it. I rewrote the first scene into a short screenplay, and it became our first project.
I told him I would let him direct on one condition–that I got to play the female lead. I remember when I first wrote the script, I was so attached to it that I couldn’t imagine giving the role over to anyone else, even though I didn’t really know how to act at the time. I was willing to learn how, just to be in it. Now that I had the opportunity to get it made, I actually did know how to act, and I knew tha
I could do a good job with the role. Eric said okay, and he agreed to cast me. We auditioned several people for the male lead, and the guy who ended up getting the role was Derek Dirlam from Why Am I In A Box? I was so pleased when he came in, because he was so great to work with on our set. His audition had this great intensity, and we just had to cast him.
I wrote that script quite a few years ago, and revisiting it was like running into an old school friend when you’ve grown up, only they haven’t. There was a lot I wanted to do differently, and I think I have grown a lot as a writer since then. But there was some pretty interesting stuff in it. It’s very character driven, so there is a lot to work with as an actor. Derek and I had a great time with it. Shooting could not have gone better. We put together a great crew, and we finished ahead of schedule
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